Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Children's Books, Comics, and Other Graphic Delights

Ernesto's blog spawned yet more blog worthy thoughts. I've been thinking a bit about graphic novels lately--likely due to rereading the Sandman series. I read a lot of comics and graphic novels back when I was in my early 20s. In fact I was the only girl in Skowhegan who had her own file at the comic book store. The clerk used to call me the "Anti-Ginger." And it wasn't just "girly" comics. I was really into the Dark Knight series from DC, and I still love watching Batman with Umberto. When I got into academia, I sort of let that go along with my extensive reading of Sci-Fi and vampire novels. But now I'm starting to go back to these things.

When talking to my former advisor, S, I mentioned that I really wanted to start pursuing cultural studies in religion. We talked a bit about how cultural studies in religion is either done, a) poorly or b) condescendingly. Yet these artifacts are so vital to the religious identities of so many Americans (I do American religion so pardon the centrist here...I don't want to assume too much about other cultures). Yet these people and the things they use are regarded with disdain. They're not "real" religion, whatever that may be.

I enjoy reading Ernesto's posts on comics because I love how serious he takes this stuff. He gives the intellectual reading it deserves. And I particularly like his take on graphic novels vs. film. There is a dignity to graphic novels and comics that people who are not into them miss. The balance between image and word is a delicate balance that when done well creates something that is extremely graceful. It is a push to anticipate what the reader might have in mind as they read. This strikes me a risky maneuver. You will always alienate some while fully capturing other's visions. It reminds me of the debates that surface when casting for a movie based on a novel begins. I'm think of Interview with A Vampire when Anne Rice had a fit about the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat. I remember myself being so outraged when I heard, and then totally changing my mind when I saw him in the role. He perfectly capture Lestat for me. It was a moment so magical and mystical that I still remember it years later. It was if a story character become reality.

While reading Ernesto's post on teamwork between writer and artist, I though immediately of children's illustrated books. There is a school of people who really think that children should not be exposed. They argue that books without pictures push children into using their imagination. John Holt, who for the most part I agree with, is one such educator. Now I always found this bogus, and I realized today it's because of my love for comics. I've always appreciated the relationship between the word and the picture. And never found that this dampened my imagination. In fact, my earliest stories where comics without words (I was six and unable to write). Now as I read to my children, I watch how the illustrations capture their imaginations. And the illustrations are so beautiful and often fun. I mean, how can one not love a book with pictures of big hairy monsters called Thelonius Monster's Sky-High Fly Pie? And then The Sound of Colors which has some of the most lovely, haunting images I've ever seen actually moved us to some sniffles. And it's not just either medium: words or pictures. They work together to hammer home beauty, ugliness, humor, seriousness, life itself.








And what's so neat is that Umberto loves comics. He's totally into the Star Wars comics (and I'm embarrassed to say this as I'm sure it makes us look like horrible parents but H has read Hellboy to Umberto. I had to put my foot down on Sandman which Umberto is fascinated by). He collects them already, and they're among his favorite things to look at and listen to. In fact, I think it was Umberto's burgeoning interest that got H and I both back into reading comics. Already my children are learning to appreciate this delicate relationship between image and word, or maybe we're all coming to an understanding that maybe there is not distinction between them.

6 comments:

Ernesto said...

What a beautiful post. And I don't mean it just because of all the kind shout-outs. Of course, Lewis Carroll knew it well, a book without pictures is not worth as much as one without pics.... those who think that pictures require no interpretation or "no imagination" are beyond help...

Ginger said...

Too true. I had a good time talking about this while waiting for the rain to end. What a sad world we would have if stories only found themselves in words.

Jess said...

I also love the interplay of pictures and words in picture books, comics and graphic novels (and other forms as well). So much of the time they work together to create inside jokes, added information, and sometimes a whole new story.

Ginger said...

Yes Jess! I remember when we read "Vainty Fair" with Gunn at UMF. He had us buy the edition that included Thackery's drawings, and often there were little pictorial clues that the text did not reveal!

Horacio said...

I found an article this month in "letras libres" where G.Sheridan says something along the lines of "children books only seem to prepare kids to watch tv since they are filled with pictures that resemble cartoon characters..." what an idiot, and that is, i think, a common prejudice against children's book and lit.

Horacio said...

Tambien:
your post got me thinking about what a "comic book critic" (wearing nothing but tighty whities)says in the "intro" to Daniel Clowe's fabulous "Ice Haven": images are associated with the "outside" (enough quotation marks!) and the words with the inside. We tend to think that the inside as more valuable, the outside as something somewhat expendable: another prejudice. The critic in Clowe's book rants against these prejudices in a better way so I'll let you read him instead.